What to expect from Android N?

By Xinye Ji

For those unaware, the Android N(utella?) Preview build has been released from Google. There are a swath of features that have been released. What does that mean for developers however? Here are some of the newer features that will affect us.

Jack and Jill and Java 8?

Jack (Java Android Compiler Kit) and Jill (Jack Intermediate Library Linker) are the new parts to the Android toolchain. These tools allow developers to fully utilize Java 8 in their apps! (Goodbye Oracle lawsuits) Some awesome features of Java 8 include lambda expressions and parallel operations!

Notifications

The notification drawer is a lot more sophisticated this time around. Google has released a new API for developers to utilize. The RemoteInput API (initially made for Android Wear) is now available in general. Additionally, you can now combine multiple notifications for the same app. There are some other minor features, but these details all combined make for a great revamp of the notification system

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 10.12.18 AM

Without Lambda Expression

Same code with Lambda Expression

Project Svelte

Android devices are pretty randomly afflicted by RAM allocation issues. While this isn’t something that developers necessarily have to do anything for, Project Svelte attempts to minimize RAM used by optimizing the way apps run in background. Hopefully this will improve performance as well as extend battery life!
These are just some of the “behind the scenes” things that stood out to me thus far for the developer preview. It seems like Android N is more of an incremental step rather than a  The coming months leading into Google I/O will be quite exciting.

The Right to be Forgotten

By Daniel Kulas

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The internet contains a tremendous wealth of knowledge, fun, entertainment and more.  One could spend hours (and I have) aimlessly driving along the internet highway, reading this and liking that, without a care in the world.  The internet will allow anyone the freedom to learn, explore and become a part of the world community.  What the internet is not so great at doing is hiding information (or purging it all together).  “Before the digital age, if I did something young and foolish, when I was young and foolish, people forgot about it as I matured.  While the details might exist somewhere in a paper archive, you needed some effort and motivation to dig them up.  Contrast that to today: All the information that once would have been generally forgotten over time – and likely is really no longer relevant to who I am now – is available with a few clicks of a mouse (John Simpson).”  Now, with a little computer-savvy, the power of keywords and the Wayne Gretzky of search engines readily available (Google), all you have to do is hit ‘Enter’ and you can find just about anything.  Increasingly, though, over the last couple of years, there have been cries for privacy on the internet and this idea of a human right “to be forgotten.”  What do I mean when I say “the right to be forgotten?”  We will find out in the following paragraphs, among other interesting facets that go along with this topic.

Google’s bread-and-butter is search.  By indexing millions and millions (and even more hundreds of millions) of websites and links, all of the time, Google is able to provide a search engine capable of uncovering just about anything, all you have to do is ask.  As I mentioned earlier, there is this increasing idea that people should have a “right to be forgotten” and this is what I mean:  Let’s say a local newspaper writes an article about you (you’re running for city council) and brings up facts about your past (unsavory but true) and runs the article.  This is where the right to be forgotten comes in.  Said-person will likely want that article removed from publication so as not to hurt their chances at the city council position (or maybe they really just want it taken down, for whatever reasons) but that won’t happen (thanks First Amendment!) so the next best thing is to ask Google to do some house-cleaning and remove any and all links from their search engine results that would point to that article.  If information is part of the public domain, obtained lawfully and written about truthfully, what logical reason is there to ever have it removed from the public domain?

The question then becomes, should this even be a ‘right’ to begin with?  I would argue ‘no’ and so would others.  “Such a broad legal ‘right to be forgotten’ could never fly here.  U.S. law, of course, provides legal recourse against falsehoods that are damaging.  But as to truthful speech, other than gross invasions of privacy, actual threats and copyright infringement, the First Amendment does not allow legal censorship (Jules Polonetsky and Christopher Wolf).”  And that is precisely what individuals are trying to accomplish when their name shows up in an article, blog post, editorial, what have you, that they don’t like (regardless if it is unequivocally true).  In addition, Martin Abrams thinks it’s ‘absurd’ to say we have a right to be forgotten from the public domain.  Again, I say ‘no’ because there is no plausible reason to scrub information from the public record that is truthful.  All this does is set a dangerous precedent, dangerous because it directly affects the work and lives of journalist, writers, editors, publishers, reporters, on-line news publications (the list goes on) and secondly (and most importantly) it allows individuals to suppress free speech and expression and to decide when certain constitutional rights fit their personal needs and when they don’t, discarding them like cards in a game of go-fish.

The origins of this issue can be traced back to Spain.  In 2009, a man by the name of Mario Costeja Gonzalez requested that articles about his personal debt be removed from the public record since he had (between that time and now) gotten his finances in order and is no longer in debt.  In addition, the paper reported that he was married, when in fact he had been divorced for some time.  After five years of waging legal battles against Spain’s highest court, in November of 2014 a decision was handed down that awarded Mario on his request to be forgotten. “The ruling says that Google and other search engines must remove data from past results if requested to do so by a member of the public (Ashifa Kassam).”  This has “led to a heated debate in Europe about the balance between privacy and the freedom of information in Europe, where citizens enjoy some of the world’s strictest data protection laws (Vincent West).”  “The consequences of the Court’s decision are just beginning to be understood.  Google has fielded about a hundred and twenty thousand (and growing) requests for deletions and granted roughly half of them.  Other search engines that provide service in Europe, like Microsoft’s Bing, have set up similar systems.  Public reaction to the decision, especially in the United States and Great Britain, has been largely critical.  An editorial in the New York Times declared the it ‘could undermine press freedoms and freedom of speech.’  The risk, according to the Times and others, is that aggrieved individuals could use the decision to hide or suppress information of public importance…A recent report by a committee of the House of Lords called the decision ‘misguided in principle and unworkable in practice’ (Jeffrey Toobin).”  Jules Polonetsky from the Future of Privacy think-tank in Washington, went even further by saying, “The decision will go down in history as one the most significant mistakes that Court has ever made.  It gives very little value to free expression.  If a particular website is doing something illegal, that should be stopped and Google shouldn’t link to it.  But for the Court to outsource to Google complicated case-specific decisions about whether to publish or suppress something is wrong.  Requiring Google to be a court of philosopher kings shows a real lack of understanding about how this will play out in reality (Jules Polonetsky / Jeffrey Toobin).”  Legal precedents like this can have a ripple (and crippling) effect/affect across the world.  “Many countries are now starting to say that they want rules for the internet that respond to their own local laws.  It marks the beginning of the end of the global internet, where everyone has access to the same information, and the beginning of an internet where there are national networks, where decisions by governments dictate which information people get access to.  The internet as a whole is being Balkanized, and Europeans are going to have a very different access to information than we have (Jennifer Granick).”  Of course this happens (and has been for some time) already in countries like China, Russia, North Korea, and so on.  While those are examples of some of the most repressive regimes in modern history, they are examples of how the internet (in general) is being controlled, watched, censored and regulated.

Now, oftentimes, as people grow and mature, the details of their past are rarely connected to the person they are today, but sometimes, people find themselves in position of becoming a leader in some capacity (president of a company, a collegiate basketball coach and anything in between).  When those days come, the details of your past immediately become relevant, especially when vetting candidates for the position in question.  How can you perform a thorough background-check on someone when the information that was once readily available, is no longer so?  And that isn’t even the main issue, the main issue is about lawful access to public information.  The opposite of that is censorship, which is exactly what some people are asking for.  Censorship of free speech, to be precise.  If you’ve never read the book ‘1984’ by George Orwell I highly recommend it.  The topics explored in that book are incredibly relevant to this article and the idea of the ongoing discussion about sacrificing privacy for security.  “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety (Benjamin Franklin).”  The sacrifices we make in terms of our liberties, in the name of national security, is worrisome at least and terrifying at most. “The American regard for freedom of speech, reflected in the First Amendment, guarantees that the Costeja judgment would never pass muster under U.S. law.  The Costeja records were public, and they were reported correctly by the newspaper at the time; constitutionally, the press has a nearly absolute right to publish accurate, lawful information (Jeffrey Toobin).”

This saga of privacy and the internet will continue to play out for years (maybe decades) to come.  With the continuing proliferation of information and the growing numbers of channels used to access that information, I’m not so sure there is a “balance” to be struck between the people who say it should be a right and those who say nay.  As I mentioned earlier, there are lawful mechanisms in place in our society that protect individuals from slanderous speech or libel.  Just because all of the sudden you want to ‘go dark’ and every detail of you to be scrubbed from the internet doesn’t mean it should be so. 

If you don’t want a Facebook or Twitter post to haunt you years down the line, think before you post it.  If you don’t want to be written about in unflattering ways, don’t be an idiot in public.  If any of the above doesn’t work for you, you can always try holding yourself accountable to your actions.

Google I/O 2015 – A Developer’s Perspective

By Xinye Ji

Google I/O was a rather anti-climactic one in some ways. People were expecting a whole new refresh like Lollipop was last year. A lot of people were expecting a new Nexus 5. (Which may or may not have been previewed when introducing the new USB Type C connector…) Instead, Google focused on support, stability and efficiency.

So, in the eyes of many, maybe Google I/O wasn’t so exciting as it was more of a ‘tock’ instead of a ‘tick’ kind of update. However, for both Google and Android developers, this update lets us breathe a sigh of relief. New letter (like L or, in this case, M)  versions typically introduces more fragmentation issues that Android has been so infamously known for. This time around, while we see some features that are not supported in older versions of Android (such as the revamp of app permissions), the support and backwards compatibility of said features won’t completely break the app one hundred percent.

The Android M preview also released with its developer counterpart Android Studio 1.3 along with the 1.3 gradle plugin.

The Good:

Android NDK

For those of you unaware, the Android NDK allows developers to work natively in C or C++. I’m personally quite excited about this, as this allows a much wider spectrum of developers to pick up Android development. I’m sure we’ll see some amazing libraries come out in the ensuing months, perhaps more hardware and low level control.

The Bad:

Additionally, during the “What’s new in Android Testing?” presentation. Many, many features were slated for “in the next few weeks.” It’s unfortunate, but it seems some things in the product were not ready in time for Google I/O.

The Ugly:

This build is… buggy to say the least. The initial release of the 1.3 Canary build had some expected errors; like having trouble switching to the M preview build, and certain gradle issues that came with that. But it also had other issues, such as telling you that your overridden classes never implemented the super class, when it clearly did.

The issue has since been patched, and I understand this is a canary (very early beta) build, but come on guys…!!

One thing is very clear for this year’s Google I/O, however.

                           A Focus on Just Making Better Apps.

Performance:

One big thing is the Captures feature on Android Studio. This allows you to get the CPU metrics for your connected device. I recall this use to be a giant cluster of irrelevant data. Now they have more intuitive UI and a very well detailed metrics that will help you search CPU hangups and memory leaks.

Theme Editor:

If any of you have done Android Development, one huge pain was setting up themes. This time around, there is a new theme and layout editor. The theme editor has some amazing items. It helps you integrate material design to your app, and it removes a lot of the boilerplate you need to generate.

Additionally, we have a revamped layout editor. This editor definitely seems new and improved. The demo at Google I/O didn’t generate a bunch of gibberish code, and the visual UI designer has piqued my interest. In fact, I suspect many developers may start using that rather than blindly typing into the XML file and hoping the UI looked as intended.

Sadly at the time of posting, this tool is not yet available on the preview.

Android Design Library:

Since I learned about material design, I’ve always wanted proper support for material design. At Google I/O this year, the Android Design Library was released, which has been basically everything I wanted from Google as far as implementing Material Design, as well as supporting Material all the way back to Froyo (Android 2.1).

Testing:

There was a large chunk of support for testing during Google I/O. Including testing UI, proper unit testing, and automation of said tests. A lot of the testing process is now more tightly integrated with Android Studio. And I, for one, am very excited to check these out in my own geeky way.

The one major thing that all these things have in common is that they are incredibly mundane to the end user, but incredibly exciting to most developers. The updates to these tools will help us improve our development process to make better, more consistent, more reliable, and more powerful apps.

Google IO 2015

Google I/O 2015

 

By Ganpy

I may not be technically qualified to analyze all the new announcements made at this week’s Google IO purely from a programmer/developer’s point of view, but I find myself qualified enough to comment on the overall outcome of the many things that came out of Moscone West, generally, as someone who is closely associated with the industry. 

The beauty of Google IO is that it is a little more grounded and humble compared to let’s say Apple WWDC. Not that I have a problem with the latter approach. It’s after all a dog and pony marketing event & you got to be in your A game. Google just likes to adopt a different strategy. With the Google umbrella casting a much larger shadow on a typical global citizen’s daily digital life than that of Apple’s, it is simply impressive that this strategy works for them, every year.

To me, what clearly stood out was how much Android centric Google IO this year was. This also highlighted the significance of the times we live in – Mobile, Internet of Things (IoT) and all new innovations around them.

M

Well. Google acknowledged that it is going to focus on ‘usability’ with Android M. It’s not that Android is not usable in its current form. But the general focus with L was on design. So with M, Google may just be polishing off the usability issues that came with L. Again I am not a programmer, so wouldn’t know how to technically break down the improvements. For example, the ability to change permissions on the fly in an app is such a leap. Improvements like these will put Android always ahead of iOS when it comes to features and what one can do with them as a developer.

Android Watch

No one saw how quickly or how powerfully Apple Watch will dominate this wearables market space. With so many different Android based watches to choose from as opposed to a single device in the iOS world, Android wearables have sort of turned out to be secondary choices for many users who are looking for smartwatches. With some really new cool features that were announced this year, it is clear that Google will continue to show Apple how to get it right in smartwatches and Apple wouldn’t mind playing the catch-up game as long as they can keep their market share this high.

Brillo and Weave

Internet of Things – Just a few months ago, this was such a complicated phrase to explain. Now, it seems like everyone talks about it. What a rapidly changing time we live in!! We are definitely living through a phase in technological development where we are inventing more solutions to solve problems created by our previous technological innovations, than actually inventing some completely new solutions. Brillo and Weave are good examples of this. Brillo is sort of like Android lite, an OS to be used by all devices that are connected to your life’s IoT while Weave is the new protocol which the devices will have to follow to communicate with one another. I know that is putting it simply, but that’s exactly how they pitched it. Let’s see how rapidly they take over our lives. I am not going gaga over them yet.

Google Photos

Well. In some ways, all Google fans could slam my statement – But I for one feel, this is one of the few areas where Google is playing catch up with Apple. Nothing that they announced as new features in Google Photos made me go “wow”, the lifelong free storage for Google Photos notwithstanding. I will be very curious to see how many people really feel that the free storage is an incentive to switch to Google Photos. This may be another area where Google treads the dangerous privacy issue in a ‘greyish’ sort of manner, if you know what I mean.

Google Now

I will keep it short. Google Now is really how Google is trying to make all your frequently used apps redundant. As conflicting as it may be, it is very impressive nevertheless. Google Now may be the only thing you need soon on your Smartphones. 

Cloud Test lab

Another eyeopening announcement. We as a team, haven’t fully discussed how this could change our testing scenarios. It is a well known fact that there is one thing that has been haunting the Android development labs all around the world and that is the fragmentation issue. With something like this, Google could potentially eliminate that being a factor to consider while developing your next Android app. We have been seeing spurts of some third party services offerings along these lines and we were interested in looking at those for our internal use. But if Google can provide something like this which has all its blessings, then we don’t have to look too far for this service in future.

VR/Cardboard/Expeditions

Expeditions was the biggest breakthrough announcement yesterday (for me). It may be hard for to express why in a very eloquent way, but the classroom expeditions demo awakened the student in me.

The GoPro rig combined with the kind of VR editing options you have, which in combination with youtube being a new platform to actually play/watch VR videos, using a ridiculously simple device like a cardboard…….I think we are sitting on the next major technological innovation.

GoPro rig may not be for everyone as I expect the cost to run into a few thousand dollars, but the day is not far off when all of us can sit in the luxury of our couches and perhaps discuss the rate at which climate change is happening all around us, as we watch a live VR capture of another big ice shelf breaking away from the coast of Antarctica. 

And that, dear readers, would be the ironical and the bittersweet future we all can look forward to!